Best of the best

Rice Alliance names 10 most promising energy technology companies at its annual forum

These 10 companies are ones to look out for. Getty Images

From fast-charging batteries and hydrogen fuel alternatives to metals recycling and artificial intelligence-driven data tools, energy tech startups have a lot to offer the industry.

After nearly 60 pitches, the Rice Alliance for for Technology and Entrepreneurship named 10 startups to look out for in the energy industry. The announcement was made at the conclusion of the annual Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum hosted at Rice University on September 11.

Of the 10, five hail from Houston. Check out this year's energy tech startups to look out for.

Sensytec

Fresh off a win from Houston's inaugural MassChallenge Texas cohort, Houston-based Sensytec again scored big. Sesnsytec's technology is known as the "smart concrete" because they've created a device that can be embedded into concrete and monitor its structure in real time. The company was founded out of the University of Houston in 2016 by Ody de la Paz.

Rheidiant

Another Houston-based company, Rheidiant uses industrial Internet of Things to optimize data from the pipelines. As a result, Rheidiant's technology can increase productivity, reduce leaks, quickly respond in emergency situations, and enhance visibility in the field. Rheidiant was founded in 2014 by CEO Murat Ocalan.

Nesh

Houston-based Nesh has created a smart assistant for oil and gas. Using artificial intelligence, Nesh can answer any question from an oil and gas employee to improve their decision-making process and cut down on the time it takes to find solutions. Nesh was founded in 2018 by Sidd Gupta and the company closed its seed round in April.

GBatteries

GBatteries, based in Ottawa, Canada, is changing the lithium battery charging game. With a mission of revolutionizing the electric car industry, GBatteries has created an artificial intelligence-backed technology that can charge a lithium battery to half full in 5 minutes. The company has 10 patents granted and 28 pending and has pilot programs in the works with automotive companies.

HARBO Technologies

Tel Aviv, Israel-based HARBO Technologies bills itself as the fastest and most effective oil spill response system in the world.The company's T-Fence system can be deployed quickly and by a team of as little as two people. HARBO was founded in 2013 by CEO Boaz Ur and has raised three rounds of funding, according to Crunchbase.

Sensorfield

It's not the first time Houston-based Sensorfield has been deemed most promising by the Rice Alliance. The company has created easy to install, wireless devices for monitoring throughout the industrial process. In May, the startup was selected for Chevron Technology Ventures' Catalyst Program.

MolyWorks Materials Corp.

California startup, MolyWorks Materials Corp., is improving the way industrial materials are recycled by building by creating a network of distributed recycling and additive manufacturing. Old metals materials go in, and metallic powder for manufacturing new products come out.

Lilac Solutions

Oakland, California-based Lilac Solutions exists to enhance lithium production as the demand rises with the growth of the electronic vehicles industry. Lilac has created a unique ion exchange technology that can lower the cost of lithium production while increasing the speed. The company is currently operating pilot programs.

Mission Secure

Mission Secure Inc. has created an industrial control system that can protect energy companies from potential cybersecurity threats as well as educate on the process. Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, MSI is venture backed and serving clients in Houston.

Syzygy Plasmonics

Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics is fresh off a $5.8 million series A funding round it closed in August. The company is creating a hydrogen fuel cell technology that produces a cheaper source of energy that releases fewer carbon emissions. The hydrogen-fueled technology originated out of research done over two decades by two Rice University professors, Naomi Halas and Peter Nordlander. Earlier this summer, the Rice Alliance named Syzygy a most promising startup at the Offshore Technology Conference.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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